x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Connecting with a cause

Tim Rea, the chief executive of Palringo, and Martin Rosinski, its founder, talk about how the Palringo works and their initiative.

Palringo, an online communication developer based in Newcastle, UK, and Dubai, raised more than US$230,000 for two charities this Ramadan. Tim Rea, the chief executive of Palringo, and Martin Rosinski, its founder, talk about how the technology works and their initiative.

What is Palringo all about?

Tim Rea: Palringo, which we launched in 2006, is an entertainment-based instant messaging service. Users create groups and build communities to play games, hold competitions, such as poetry competitions that are popular in the region, or discuss about football teams. Soon, we had around 3,000 to 4,000 groups. We have built up a large audience who are engaged and active, sending 50 to 60 billion messages a month. Moreover, it is a global audience of 25 million. The active Gulf users number 1.5 million. Within the Gulf, strong numbers are from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates followed by Qatar. Vast numbers are from North and Latin America and India as well. But the level of engagement when it comes to total number of user hours is one of the highest in the Gulf.

Palringo raised money for Islamic Relief and Charity Right and the funds raised will go towards helping people in Syria and the Palestinian Territories, among other areas where the organisations work. Why charities?

Tim Rea: One of the things that we discuss often internally is how to make [the technology] relevant. Looking at the Gulf region, we saw a change in the nature of engagement during Ramadan last year, discussing topics related to religion and charity. The idea to raise money for charities came from within Palringo. We learnt from our users that giving to charity is a big focus during the Ramadan period and for us it was interesting to experiment with the idea of encouraging charitable giving within a social context.

Starting just before Ramadan, users could download a “Charity Bot” in their chat groups and can donate virtual currency called Palringo Credit by messaging the Bot. Tell us more about how it worked.

Martin Rosinski: A bot is an add-on for a group, a back-end software that helps do services and functions. With it, users can make a donation that others can see. There was a smallish number of big donors and the range of donation was broadly spread. There were around 20 donors who gave more than US$1,000. The donors were predominantly from the Gulf, almost 98 per cent, though the programme was open to everyone globally. However, we tend to promote certain programmes more within a region, and we promoted this mostly in the Gulf.

How are you planning to expand the use of the technology for other fundraising activities?

Tim Rea: This is an ongoing debate. Users can encourage themselves to donate to the kind of commitments and social engagements that can be useful. And we plan to continue this. I can say, though, that I’d expect charitable giving to be a regular part of the Palringo experience.

Where was Palringo born?

Tim Rea: It was founded in the United Kingdom, and 18 months ago we thought it would be valuable to take the technology regional and we set up an office in Dubai because of the ease of operations and transport links. Clearly in the Middle East, the requirements are different. We have been backed by venture capital investors and raised just over £5 million (Dh28.9m) in total over the past few years. We have been profitable since the middle of last year.

What are your expansion plans?

Tim Rea: Currently we have three people in Dubai. By the end of this year or early next year, we plan to be a dozen people. We are not seeking investment. We are well supported by a good group of investors. There is a strong user base in India, and we hope to expand there. But it is a year behind the Gulf. It has been an interesting year and we have been learning what the users want. We are seeing users increasingly respond to the game-oriented concept while they chat, and so next year we plan to have more game-oriented [functions].

sahoo@thenational.ae